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Republican freedom, rights, and the coalition problem


  • Keith Dowding

    (Australian National University, Australia,


Republican freedom is freedom from domination juxtaposed to negative freedom as freedom from interference. Proponents argue that republican freedom is superior since it highlights that individuals lose freedoms even when they are not subject to interference, and claim republican freedom is more ‘resilient’. Republican freedom is trivalent, that is, it includes the idea that someone might be non-free to perform some actions rather than unfree, and in that sense everyone regards republican freedom as different from negative freedom. Trivalence makes republican freedom moralized according to negative libertarians. Beyond that, negative libertarians argue that all the supposed advantages of republican freedom are compatible with those of pure negative-freedom measures. That is, losses and gains of republican freedom are captured in measures of pure negative freedom, and any protection for republican freedom also protects negative freedom, ensuring each is equally resilient. Since republican freedom has no advantages over negative freedom, but has other problems (is moralized and is trivalent), negative freedom is superior. I examine this debate in this article through the ‘coalition problem’ for republican freedom. The coalition problem is that since there is always a coalition of others who could dominate any agent in any sphere, all agents are subject to domination, and hence no one can ever have republican freedom. Pettit’s simple solution to this reductio ad absurdum distinguishes potential from actual coalitions. Individuals are only dominated by actual coalitions, and not by potential ones. The simple solution highlights moralization problems as it demonstrates that domination cannot be purely institutionally defined, but requires consideration of dispositions and expectations about others’ behaviour. I argue that the differences between the ‘free man’ and ‘unfree person’ paradigmatic to republican arguments is best captured not by the difference between domination and interference, but, rather, from familiar distinctions between different types of rights and freedoms. Resilience is a practical matter that might track some of these familiar distinctions.

Suggested Citation

  • Keith Dowding, 2011. "Republican freedom, rights, and the coalition problem," Politics, Philosophy & Economics, , vol. 10(3), pages 301-322, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:pophec:v:10:y:2011:i:3:p:301-322

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    freedom; liberty; republicanism; rights;


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